What’s Trending in Specialty Food: Five Takeaways from the Summer Fancy Food Show


By: Sarah Faith, Account Director, Brand Communications

Recently, Cone Communications attended the Specialty Food Association’s Summer Fancy Food Show, the largest specialty food industry trade event in North America, to get a look at the latest innovations from food companies around the world. The event brought together more than 2,600 exhibitors from around the globe who featured more than 180,000 specialty food and beverage products.

Cone has a long history of working with food and beverage brands – large and small, emerging and established. This, paired with my experience in the space and love of uncovering the latest and greatest products and trends, made for a fun few days of tasting and talking about what might be influencing Cone’s media/influencer friends and clients in the year ahead. Here are a few observations from the show. 

Meat snacks…and more meat snacks

Protein snacks are hot, and alternative proteins were certainly plentiful on the show floor. But, it was the meat snacks that really piqued my interest. They were everywhere! According to Denise Purcell of the Specialty Food Association, “meat snacks continue [their] upward climb, rising 197% between 2012 and 2016 and projected to grow another 146% over the next five years.” And with the popularity has come inventiveness on the flavor front, like the EPIC Provisions Bison Bacon Cranberry Bar. A few others headed to my shopping list include KRAVE Jerky (Pink Peppercorn), Vermont Smoke & Cure Meat Sticks (Spicy Italian), and The New Primal (Date & Rosemary).

Innovative hydration

Functional beverages are everywhere and based on their showing last week, the popularity of enhanced waters in particular is on the rise. Producers are continuing to push the limits of what can be done with water and how enhancements can improve health, performance and taste. There was much to be learned, with lessons in the power of hyper-oxygenated water from the Formula Four OXYiGEN team, the benefits of “prehistoric water” from Tanzamaji USA, and how plants are flooding the category from the likes of Säpp Birch Water and H2Rose.

Reimagined favorites

Shelley Balanko, show presenter and SVP of The Hartman Group, noted that early- and mid-stage brands are moving in on the legacy category incumbents because they are capturing consumers’ imaginations, offering something new and different. Sometimes you don’t want to mess with a good thing. Other times, good things undergo a little innovation and you can’t help but be intrigued. Case in point Peanut Butter & Co. Powdered Peanut Butter. Its peanut butter minus much of the fat, leaving you with lots of protein that can be easily added to a meal or snack, shake, spread or baked good recipe.


Ready-to-drink coffee and tea beverages are among the fastest-growing categories in specialty food. While certainly not a new category, new and innovative products continued to shine at this year’s show, with nutritional benefits and compatibility with different flavor profiles driving demand. Some attention-getters included Chameleon Cold-Brew coffee (Organic Vanilla), EvyTea cold brew bottled tea (Black Tea Strawberry Basil), and Arteasan teas (Energy with black tea, blueberry and ginseng).

Something for everyone

Consumers are seeking increased transparency in terms of labeling, sourcing, business practices…you name it. That’s not news. But at this year’s show I couldn’t help noticing that “non-X” and “Y-free” messages were communicated extra loud by brands. These messages of what was absent from products often trumped communication of product attributes – in product pitches and on packages, collateral, and signage. For brands like Enjoy Life, Good Pop, Love Beets and The Good Bean, oh-so-clear communication of non-GMO, nut free, no added sugar, gluten free and more appears to be increasingly important as they look to break through in a something-for-everyone marketplace.

Let’s chat! Feel free to reach out if you want to discuss how these trends apply to your business or how we can support your marketing efforts.